Monday, April 27, 2009

Music news from Clay Eals

The train is back on the track!

After a long winter of ramping up at my new day job, I'm so glad that spring has sprung, and the reason for this update is to let you know about three events coming up soon -- two in Seattle and one near Chicago. Of course, they're all related to Steve Goodman and my biography of him, as you'll see:

Sunday, May 3: Seattle's celebration of Seeger's 90th

Amazingly enough, I'm the emcee for the Seattle celebration of Pete Seeger's 90th birthday, to be held Sunday, May 3, at The Historic Admiral Theater, just four blocks from my home. Here's how it came about:

Spurred by the Internet proliferation of an idea advanced by Marie Goonan, a Seeger enthusiast from Melbourne, Australia, a grassroots movement has taken hold to schedule concerts all over the world on May 3, Seeger's 90th, to pay tribute to the legendary musician and humanitarian. Marie's apt and catchy suggestion for a theme for these shows is "For Pete's Sake: Sing!"

Of course, the Seeger 90 event with the highest profile will be held at Madison Square Garden in New York City. An astonishing array of A-list musicians will perform, and topping the bill, much as he did at the Obama inauguration, is Seeger himself. The event is a benefit for Seeger's longtime cause, to protect and restore the Hudson River, called Clearwater. For details, visit

Dozens of other Seeger 90 shows will be held the same night, including the Seattle event, which includes a 4 p.m. showing of the 2007 film documentary "Pete Seeger: The Power of Song," followed by a three-hour hootenanny, starting at 7 p.m., anchored by the stellar music of Tom Colwell & The Southbound Odyssey. ("City of New Orleans" fans can guess where Tom got the name for his band.) Tom, a longtime velvet-voiced Seattle folkie who once performed with Goodman on a Chicago bar stage in 1978, has provided music for many of my Seattle Goodman-bio events, and I'm honored that he has assembled a nine-piece band and delved into extensive rehearsals in preparation for this once-in-a-lifetime Seeger happening. It is gaining prominent media coverage that just may fill the 350-seat auditorium.

Originally, my thought was to hold a Goodman bio event that night with a segment on Seeger, given the strong connection between Goodman and Seeger. The two, along with Harry Chapin, played together in memorable benefit shows on Long Island in 1976 and 1978, and Seeger sang and played on Goodman's 1977 studio recording of "The Twentieth Century Is Almost Over."

In my interviews of Seeger in 1999 and 2000, he told me of his high regard for Goodman, calling Steve "among the five or 10 best (musicians) I ever knew" and "one of these surprise geniuses. This kid out of Chicago or wherever would show up with a few absolutely magical songs. But that's the wonderful thing about life. We never know when or where genius is going to pop up."

It did not take long, however, for my concept for May 3 to flip-flop, and it became a no-brainer to make Seeger the focus of the event. To my good fortune (and that of Seeger fans in Seattle), the Admiral Theater eagerly offered its space. The event is a benefit for the Northwest Folklife Festival (admission is $8 for the film, $10 for the hootenanny and $15 combo).

To see the poster and press release for this unique celebration, plus background on Tom Colwell, visit my home page,, and click on the links in the upper right corner. And don't forget to also click on the "About the Author" tab to go to the schedule page, where you will find links to event stories (West Seattle Herald, West Seattle Blog) and day-of-event radio shows (KPTK-AM, KBCS-FM).

For quick samples, click here:

And here:

If you can come (and sing) on May 3, wonderful! If you're far afield but know friends or family in the Seattle area who might like to attend, please forward them this message. As Pete is fond of saying, "There's no such thing as a wrong note as long as you're singin'!"

Sunday, May 24: Northwest Folklife Festival

One of the perennial highlights of Seattle is Folklife, the four-day festival on Memorial Day weekend that for the past 37 years has drawn 200,000 to 300,000 people to the Seattle Center to see 20 stages going full tilt from morning to night, all for free. It's a remarkable gathering that Pete Seeger sees as a model for the nation.

"I've told a lot of people about that festival," he said to me in 1999, two years after playing five shows at the 1997 edition of Folklife. "If you want to learn how to put a festival on, go to Seattle," he said. "Too many festivals are out in the beautiful countryside, and only the people with cars can get there. It's right in the middle of town, and all sorts of people can make it."

In 2007, immediately after the release of my Goodman bio, I was fortunate to be given 50 minutes to present a musical panel on Goodman. This year, I've been invited back to present a 50-minute workshop, "How to Write and Promote a Music Biography." My slot is from noon to 12:50 p.m. Sunday, May 24, in the Olympic Room at Seattle Center. Tom Colwell will join me with musical support.

For more info on Folklife and its phenomenal schedule, including two appearances this year by Tom Colwell & The Southbound Odyssey, please visit If you've never been to Folklife and will be in or near Seattle in late May, come see (and hear) what all the fuss is about!

Friday-Saturday, June 5-6: Kankakee Railfest

The Illinois city of Kankakee (population 26,000), an hour's drive south of Chicago, is known nationally because it is mentioned in two songs, including Steve Goodman's "City of New Orleans," whose title is the name of the train that has run through the town since 1947. Catching my eye in January was a blog post by Kankakee resident Dennis Yohnka that referenced both the train and the song. Soon I was in contact with his son, Bill Yohnka, who runs the Kankakee Chamber of Commerce and hosts a weekly radio show on WKAN-AM. On that show, Bill interviewed me on Valentine's Day about my Goodman bio, and he later concocted the delightful idea of bringing me to his town as the featured speaker for the city's annual one-day event called Railfest.

So at 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 6, I will present a free Goodman bio music event with the musical support of local singer/guitarist Taylor "Red" Genson on a stage outside the Kankakee train depot. Also, at noon the day before, June 5, I'll make a free indoor presentation, featuring a variety of clips of rarely seen video of Goodman, at the Kankakee Public Library. For more info on these events, please visit

I'm really looking forward to this pair of events. Bill Yohnka is even making sure that after flying into Chicago I can travel to Kankakee aboard the City of New Orleans train, a first for me.

(Embarrassing admission: When I traveled between Chicago and Champaign/Urbana in 2001 for book research, because of time constraints I drove a rental car instead of taking the train.) If you're anywhere near Chicago on the weekend of Railfest, please consider joining me in Kankakee!

Have you figured out the other song that mentions Kankakee? It's the Yip Harburg classic, "Lydia, the Tattooed Lady," popularized by Groucho Marx!

Once again, my heartfelt gratitude goes to the thousands -- including my spirited and resilient webmaster, Valerie Magee -- who have made the Goodman bio possible and who have championed it beyond my wildest imagination!

Clay Eals

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